Add Women and Stir? Women in the Military

At a midday Press Conference in the Pentagon Briefing Room, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter unexpectedly announced that that the Pentagon will open all combat jobs to women. He explicitly asserted that “there will be no exceptions.” The decision removes all formal restrictions on women that have applied to a range of combat roles including artillery, armor, infantry, and related combat roles. The change directly responds to the reality on the ground that women have consistently engaged in frontline combat in the new wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which I have addressed in the past. The news has been broadly welcomed by organizations pressing for this equality move for some time including the National Women’s Law Center.

The decision comes in the context of ongoing internal resistance to integrating women from certain parts of the military, notably the Marine Corps. The importance of this symbolic change should not be underestimated and is to be applauded. However, delivering the institutional and cultural changes necessary to ensure substantive and meaningful integration of women in all combat positions will remain a sizable hurdle. Notably there may be other challenges. The Chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have announced that they will review the Pentagon’s decision to open all combat jobs to women, citing Congress’s “constitutional role to make rules” for the military. Watch this space for applause and resistance in equal measure. 

About the Author(s)

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism. This article is written in the author's personal and academic capacity. Robina Chair in Law, Public Policy, and Society at the University of Minnesota Law School; Professor of Law at the University of Ulster’s Transitional Justice Institute in Belfast, Northern Ireland; Follow her on Twitter (@NiAolainF).